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Oduya steps up for Blackhawks in Game 4

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- There was some question as to whether Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya would even play in Game 4 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning at United Center on Wednesday.

But Oduya, who sustained an undisclosed upper-body injury in Game 3 on Monday, played 25:45 in Game 4, blocked five shots and finished with a plus-1 rating. As one of the Blackhawks' top four defensemen who have absorbed a huge workload in this series and the Western Conference Final, receiving the normal contribution from Oduya was a big help in Chicago's 2-1 victory to tie the best-of-7 series 2-2.

Game 5 will take place at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

"He's been huge," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said of Oduya. "Everyone liked to talk about the four [defensemen] who were absorbing most of the minutes and responsibility in the previous series, so I don't think that's changed. I think those guys are ready for whatever, [even] playing through a few bumps and bruises. Johnny is one of those guys. It's going to take a lot more to stop him. Huge for him to bounce back. [He] made a big difference for us on the blue line tonight."

Oduya left Game 3 with 7:44 remaining in the second period, but returned for the third. His shifts and ice time were significantly reduced Monday, so there were questions as to whether that would continue in Game 4.

It didn't, although Oduya took a few punishing hits retrieving pucks in the corners of the defensive zone.

"I thought he looked great," Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. "I don't know if he's hurt or not. He played like he always [does]. He's a warrior out there and leads the way on the back end. He sacrifices his body and plays a hard game. It was huge for us [tonight]. He was big for us, for sure."

Oduya's ability to soak up minutes allowed coach Joel Quenneville to keep leaning heavily on the top four, who again played about 90 percent of Chicago's defense minutes. Kimmo Timonen and rookie Trevor van Riemsdyk, the fifth and sixth defensemen, played 12:37 combined.

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